As Saudi Arabia pushes ahead with its ambitious housing plans, it is imperative that its sewerage and wastewater infrastructure keeps up with the pace of new building projects.

The kingdom’s population has grown steadily at more than 2 per cent a year for the past decade, and this is set to continue over the next five years. It is estimated that more than 1 million new homes will be required in this period to cope with the rising demand. These new houses, in addition to the raft of new social infrastructure and commercial premises planned, will all require adequate access to sewage networks and treatment facilities.

Saudi Arabia does not have a good track record in recent history of providing sewerage infrastructure. In 2006, only 45 per cent of Riyadh and 11 per cent of Jeddah were connected to adequate sewage networks. As a result of the lack of sewage infrastructure in Jeddah, wastewater has been dumped in the so-called ‘musk lake’ outside the city. The lake was supposed to be a stopgap measure until a functioning sewage system was implemented. However, more than 10 years on, the lake is still being filled with waste on a daily basis.

Riyadh has pledged to solve the country’s wastewater problems, with the National Water Company planning to spend an average of $2.4bn annually for the next 16 years to raise sewerage network coverage in Riyadh and Jeddah to more than 80 and 90 per cent respectively by 2015.

With a vast array of ambitious projects planned in the coming years, the kingdom’s construction sector will become a regional and international focal point. It is vital that during the development period ahead, the public and private sectors invest adequate time and money to ensure the new facilities are connected to hygienic and safe waste systems.